8 ways to say NO without saying NO
May 4, 2015  |  Written by M. Rodrigo Brao

It might sound ridiculous but saying “no” is not the best way to discipline children. Some experts believe that if the use of negation is practiced often enough, we can build resentment in our children and even lay the grounds for a future rebel. According to Audrey Ricker, PHD in psychology and author of ‘Back Talk’, if we constantly say “no”, the word will lose its significance. Instead, it’s preferable to use short, clear and concise sentences to explain to children why they should not do something. Try the following 10 sentences and let us know if they work.

“I know you love ice-cream but it´s not good to eat a lot of it. “

More often than not, we tell our children not to eat too much candy, or junk food. But the best thing we can do is offer them healthy alternatives such as fruit or yogurt. Doctor Walsh, an authority in childhood education, assures us that saying things like: “you can eat ice cream later on” or “I´ll give you some tomorrow” isn´t a healthy option. “Young children do not have a sense of time so it doesn’t make sense to tell them they´ll be able to eat ice cream in the future.”

“Food is for eating, not playing”

If your kids are the kind who just stir their food with their fork without eating or drop food on the floor when you aren´t looking, take a deep breath and explain why we shouldn’t throw food away. That is what Linda Shook Sorkin suggests, family therapist and collaborator of “It´s important not to scream when they do something like this, because they can interpret it as a challenge.” This can also be used when children jump in bed when its time to sleep.

“You won´t get what you want by doing that. Tell me what´s wrong.”

This is the most effective sentence to use instead of “Don´t hit your brother”. “Children have the capacity to understand what hitting means but it´s limited. The first thing you must do is stand in the middle and stop the fighting. Then you can explain that that is not the way to go,” says Shook Sorkin. The majority of children behave like this as a means to call attention or because they feel frustrated. We must help them calm down and teach them to express their feelings when they are not happy. Identifying their emotions is the path to controlling them.

“If you pull on the dog´s ears, you´ll hurt him.”

If you catch your son or daughter misbehaving with the dog or stepping on the flowers, make them understand that pets and plants are living things. This will help them develop empathy and become conscious that living beings have feelings. “We must teach them that plants and nature in general, should be treated with respect,” says Marva Soogrim, founder of


“I don´t understand what you are saying when you talk like that”

As children grow, they learn to complain in order to get what they want. Instead of saying: “Don´t complain”, try using other words. Psychologist Richard Bromfield suggests the following: “I don´t understand you when you use that tone of voice.” This will get them to speak in their regular tone. Getting your attention and listening to them is good enough to have them change their attitude.

“Watch out!!”

Sometimes a “no” is not enough to express danger and parents tend to forget this. Instead we should use other words such as “Watch out! or “It´s too hot” and always accompany it with a firm tone of voice. Use them even if our children are not in real but potential danger. Like putting their hands on a stove that has been turned off but is still hot.

“I´m going to tickle you “

“Sense of humour is an excellent way to handle hard-headed kids.” Child psychologist, Eileen Kennedy-Moore- believes that “children love to laugh and saying something like this could become a fun warning.” “If you keep doing that, I´m going to tickle you” or “Watch out, mommy is going to get you”. This can help them  re-direct their behaviour.”

“Look at all these things”

We shouldn’t hand them our cell phone just to distract them because they´ll end up asking for it over and over again. Instead, try getting them to look at their surroundings and play a game of Simon Says, for example. It´s a great way to teach them new vocabulary and awaken their curiosity.

Have you tried to explain something to your children without using the word “no”? Does it work?

Photo Credits: gqemer

Photo Credits: Paul Scott


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